Efforts continue to save the Gay Head Lighthouse

A sentinel for centuries, the Gay Head Lighthouse must be moved away from the edge of the cliffs, and soon. — File photo by Ezra Newick

Updated 11am, August 23

Representatives of the General Services Administration (GSA) have scheduled a site inspection at the Gay Head lighthouse and a public meeting at Aquinnah town hall on Thursday, October 10, members of the Save the Gay Head Lighthouse Committee (SGHLC) said Monday night. The visit is in anticipation of the Coast Guard’s plan to sell the lighthouse, now perched perilously close to the edge of the Gay Head cliffs.

The committee met Monday to review ongoing plans to move the lighthouse back from the cliff edge. The site inspection, similar to an open house, will let prospective parties tour the property. An application for ownership is due 90 days after a site inspection.

In a letter dated August 5, Aquinnah selectmen sent a letter to the GSA and the National Park Service, expressing the town’s intent to apply for ownership of the lighthouse and surrounding two-acre property.

The lighthouse must be moved back from the eroding cliffs within the next couple of years if it is to be saved, according to experts. SGHLC has set out to raise $3 million to restore and relocate the iconic brick lighthouse to one of three potential locations, two of them private parcels and one owned by the town. A fourth location in the town circle was eliminated because the elevation drop would have jeopardized the light as an active aid to navigation: it would’ve been too low to see from the water.

Depending on the site, the distance the lighthouse would need to be moved ranges from 130 feet to 600 feet.

In a conversation with The Times on Monday, Len Butler, chairman of the building committee, said a request for proposal (RFP) for geotechnical engineering is set to be issued by September 1.

“We will be proceeding with geotechnical testing this fall and plan to move the light in the fall of 2014 if we achieve ownership by then,” Mr. Butler said, adding, “It’s a really slow, slow process.”

He hopes Congressman William “Bill” Keating who visited the lighthouse in May, will help speed up the application process. “Hopefully we don’t have any serious erosion and get to the point where we can’t move it. It’s in imminent danger.”

Meg Bodnar, chairman of the fundraising committee, provided SGHLC members with an update on the fundraising effort. She said that about $272,000 has been raised so far. Including verbal pledges and other sources, there is around $372,000. She told the SGHLC Monday night that the donations were 90 percent or more from Aquinnah, and the committee is reaching out to other towns. “The outpouring of support has been tremendous,” she told The Times.

Ms. Bodnar highlighted some recent support as the effort ramps up. “We currently have a $50,000 challenge matching grant on the table from a generous couple in Aquinnah. For every $10,000 gift received, including those paid in installments, they will donate $5,000 up to their ceiling of $50,000,” she said. “That means we need 10 gifts of $10,000 each in order to obtain their full gift of $50,000.”

SGHLC is also working on a poetry project, as well as an inaugural Gay Head 10K road race scheduled for October 6, and it seeks business sponsors. The committee is waiting for state approval for the use of State Road. “We have an alternative route ready as a contingency plan if for some reason it is not approved by the state. We need volunteers for this event.”

“It’s incredible how the lighthouse touches so many people,” Ms. Bodnar said. “The Aquinnah community is really stepping up with support and we are starting to reach out to donors across the Island.”

The next meeting of the Save the Gay Head Lighthouse Committee is scheduled for September 9 at 5 pm.

Updated: The date of the GSA public meeting and inspection was moved from October 8 to October 10.